This week’s headline theme considers self-mastery: what is it, how is it integral to our learning and our success, and how might we strengthen and develop greater self-mastery?
It is said that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything. That’s the the equivalent to the hours spent over five years in a full-time job. And although this number as an absolute is hotly debated, as you will read in the stories below, the fact remains that the more time we spend practising anything the better we get at it, and the better at something we want to become the more time we better be prepared to put into it.
This is good news for those of us who are are not-so-very-young anymore and have plenty of hours doing what we do already on the meter. But what does it mean for learning something new…?
Well, certainly practice, if not making us perfect, is needed to progress us closer towards our ideal state. And practice demands great amounts of self-discipline, determination, willpower, self-belief, perseverance, self-regulation, stamina, optimism, self-reliance and resilience – perhaps summed up best by Charles Handy in his book The New Alchemists as the three essential qualities of successful entrepreneurs: Drive, Doggedness and Difference.
Notice the repeated emphasis on the self in these essential capabilities. More and more self-mastery is becoming one of the essentials for our 21st century work and lives.
Nice word but what is it and how can we develop it?
I first encountered the notion of self-mastery as Personal Mastery twenty-something years ago when I discovered Peter Senge’s Five Discipline for Organisational Learning.
He titled his ideas The Fifth Discipline to underscore the necessity of Systems Thinking, and if, for Senge, Personal Mastery was not the most important, he made it the his first and arguably the one upon which all the others then depend upon and build out from.
We have developed his ideas to extend into individual capabilities with resonance for everyone one of us, and here then is what we can learn about self-mastery from Senge’s model for deliberate continuous learning and adaptation:
It is also worth looking at the other four of Senge’s disciplines for some of the consequences and outcomes that can follow from having high Personal Mastery.
- Personal Mastery ~ learning to expand our personal capacity to create the results we most desire; continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision and focusing our energies; developing resilience and searching out a wider reality; knowing what ‘playing to our strengths’ means and being willing and able to act differently from our natural style and preferences to better match the demands of the situations we face.
- Mental Models ~ learning to expose our internal assumptions and beliefs about the world, to bring them to the surface and hold them rigorously to scrutiny; being able to unveil and communicate the assumptions inside our thinking, making our thinking open and porous to influence from others. This discipline enables us to recognise our different mindsets and change them to more helpful when we need to.
- Shared Vision ~ building a sense of shared purpose and commitment with the rest of our group by unearthing the collective pictures of the ideal future we hope to create, and the principles, values and practices by which we hope to get there. Knowing why what we want is necessary and compelling and has worth and meaning outside our own self-interests.
- Team Learning ~ discovering and expanding what we know through the act of listening to each other, using dialogue to suspend assumptions and genuinely ‘think together’ and Emotional Intelligence (EQ) to transform our conversations into collective learning so that our group can reliably create intelligence and capability greater than the sum of its individual parts.
- Systems Thinking ~ a way of thinking about the forces and interrelationships that shape the behaviour of our system, and a language for describing this to each other. This discipline enables us to look out for the consequences of our choices and actions, to see how to change systems more effectively, and to use all of the disciplines together as an ensemble in order to act in tune with the larger processes of our natural, social, and economic ecosystems.
Linked closely to these ideas and amplifying their importance for both ourselves and the people and organisations we work with is the idea of Achieving Potential, also the top-line outcome from having high level happiness at work. And our thinking about what this means is inherited from Maslow’s hierarchical model of different level needs, and places Self- Actualisation – achieving our fullest potential – at the pinnacle of his pyramid.
What follows is a number of articles that have been collected in this week’s new Happiness At Work #edition 110 that add different ideas, insights, and guidance for building this increasingly crucial capability of self-mastery.
Self-Mastery: Learning Personal Leadership
“Courage, hard work, self-mastery, and intelligent effort are all essential to successful life.”
– Theodore Roosevelt, former US president.
What do you think when you hear the term “self-mastery”? You might picture someone like a martial arts master – calm, focused, and in control at all times. Or, maybe you imagine people who have their lives planned, and are in control of their own future.
Do you show these traits on a regular basis? Do you feel in control of your career and your goals? Or, like many people, do you feel that you should take more control of your actions and emotions?
In this article, we’ll examine what self-mastery is – and we’ll look at what you can do to develop it within yourself.
What is Self-Mastery?
When you have developed self-mastery, you have the ability to control yourself in all situations, and you move forward consciously and steadily towards your goals. You know your purpose, and you have the self-discipline needed to do things in a deliberate, focused, and honorable way.
Think about people you know who don’t have any self-mastery. They’re probably impulsive and rash. They might let their emotions control them, yelling at colleagues when they’re angry, and then being overly polite to make up for this later. They’re unpredictable and, as a result, people see them as untrustworthy.
When you demonstrate self-mastery at work, you prove to your colleagues that you have the inner strength and steadiness needed for effective leadership. So it’s well worth the effort to invest time developing self-mastery. You’ll likely become a happier, more balanced person – and you’ll find that opportunities arise because of this.
Self-mastery is a broad term that covers many aspects of your personal and professional life. Developing self-mastery can mean working on many of these areas. (If so, it may be best to focus on one or two areas at a time, so you don’t become overwhelmed.)
Look at the following areas of your life to develop self-mastery:
Self-mastery starts with a vision of how you want your life to be.
Think about people you know who have incredible self-discipline . Chances are that they know exactly where they want to go in life, and this vision gives them the strength to get there.
This is why it’s so important to start with a clear vision of your short-term and long-term objectives. Learn how to set personal goals , and get into the habit of moving towards these goals every day. The clearer you are about what you want to achieve in life, the easier it is to move forwards calmly and confidently.
2. Attitude and Emotion
Your attitude and emotions play a major role in self-mastery. Those who show strong self-mastery don’t let their emotions control them – they control their own emotions.
Focus on something positive every day. Be grateful for things, even if these are just things like that fact that you do a job you enjoy, or that the weather is beautiful on your drive to work. Having gratitude and a positive outlook will set the tone for the rest of your day.
Resist the temptation to blame yourself when things go wrong.Self-sabotage is a quick and cruel way of stopping yourself from reaching your true potential. If you find that you’re undermining yourself, consciously make yourself stop. Instead, think of something positive and encouraging.
You can also change negative thinking with cognitive restructuring . Write down the situation that is causing your negative thoughts. Next, write down the emotions you feel, and list the “automatic thoughts” you have while experiencing these emotions. Then, list the evidence that supports these negative thoughts, and the evidence that refutes them. Finally, list some fair, balanced, objective thoughts about the situation.
Being able to manage and control your emotions helps you buildemotional intelligence . This is your awareness of others people’s needs and emotions, and your knowledge of how your own emotions affect those around you. Those who have good self-mastery are always aware of others, and they work hard to make sure that their emotions don’t negatively impact other people.
Think about how many times you’ve set a goal and, for one reason or another, never followed it through because of lack of willpower or self-control. It’s happened to all of us, and we probably felt ashamed or disappointed that we didn’t achieve what we wanted.
Willpower is an essential part of self-mastery. It’s what pushes you forward to take action, even if you’re feeling scared or hesitant. Willpower is also what keeps you moving towards your goals in the weeks or months ahead.
To boost your willpower, make sure you have both rational and emotional motives for what you want to achieve. For example, if your goal is to stop surfing the web in work time, a rational motive could be that it’s against company rules, while an emotional motive could be that other people will lose respect for you when they see that you are not working hard.
For many of us, willpower comes in short bursts and is often strongest when we first decide to make a change. So, use your initial burst of willpower to change your environment, so that it supports your efforts to reach your goal.
For instance, imagine that your goal is to improve your self-confidence at work. At the beginning, when your willpower is strong, you could focus on changing the environment in your workplace by making a list of everything that hurts your self-confidence. You could also create a plan for overcoming those obstacles, and post items and affirmations in your office that provide reminders about your goal.
After a week or so, you might find that your willpower is not as strong. But, because you changed your environment, you’re better prepared to continue working towards your goal, because you have a foundation already in place.
Improving focus is also key to self-mastery. For instance, how much time do you waste during your work day? How much time do you spend on the Internet, talking casually with colleagues, or getting coffee? What could you accomplish if you fully used the hours available to you?
Start by working on your concentration . Focus on one task at a time, and slowly increase your level of focus.
At first you may find that you can’t concentrate on a task for more than one hour at a time, before you get tired anddistracted . Try to increase this to two hours by adding 15 minutes of focused work every day. This will allow you to strengthen your focus to two-hour stretches – and then even more, if that’s what you need to get things done.
Achieving self-mastery takes time and hard work, but it’s definitely worth the effort.
It’s best to work on one or two areas at a time. Start by identifying your life and career goals. Then, focus on maintaining a positive attitude during the day. Also, try not to let negative emotions impact anyone else.
Other strategies, like building your willpower and strengthening your focus, will help ensure that you keep moving forward toward your goals – while further building self-mastery.
Research shows that only 20% of people achieve anything close to their true potential. I recently sat down with Shirzad Chamine, who believes he has identified exactly why most of us do not reach out true potential, and what we can do about it. In his New York Times Bestseller Positive Intelligence, Shirzad distills his groundbreaking research on the ten well-disguised mental Saboteurs that hold people back, and how you can overcome them. He shares the key to improving your performance at work and feeling happier and less stressed in as little as 21 days. Does this sound too good to be true? Ironically, that may be one of your Saboteurs talking right now!
Shirzad believes it is critical that leaders become aware of the duel perspectives “raging inside their minds.” The constant battle is “between the ‘Sage’ voice that serves them versus the ‘Saboteur’ voices that undermine them.” According to Shirzad, while this conflict between Sage and Saboteur happens inside every mind, it intensifies with most entrepreneurs.
For many entrepreneurs, your identity becomes very wrapped up in your business, which is why it can feel so personal when things don’t go well . This leads to additional stress, which is what fuels the Saboteurs. Shirzad says that the reason only 20% of people achieve anything close to their true potential is due to the destructive power of their Saboteurs.
There are a total of ten Saboteurs, “internal enemies” as Shirzad calls them; however, most people are undermined by only a couple of them, depending on personality and background. The ten Saboteurs are: Judge, Controller, Victim, Restless, Stickler, Pleaser, Avoider, Hyper-Rational , Hyper-Achiever, and Hyper-Vigilant.
There is a specific subset of Saboteurs that tend to afflict entrepreneurs:
The Judge causes the greatest damage. It beats you down constantly over your flaws and mistakes. The lie the Judge tells is that by beating you up over your imperfections, you stay driven.
The Controller runs on an anxiety-based need to take charge, control situations, and bend people’s actions to your own will. By overdoing this, it causes resentment in others and prevents them from developing themselves, because they have to do things your way.
The Hyper-Rational involves an intense and exclusive focus on the rational processing of everything, including relationships. It causes you to be impatient with people’s emotions, regarding them as unworthy of your time and attention.
The key to overcoming these Saboteurs and reaching your full potential involves three strategies:
1. Weaken Your Saboteurs
To weaken your Saboteurs, you need to observe and label the Saboteur thoughts and feelings when they arise. Start off by exposing which of the ten Saboteurs are your primary internal enemies. Then create a “mug shot” of each one, profiling key beliefs, assumptions, and feelings. This helps you intercept the Saboteur when it shows up in your head and switch to the Sage alternative. It takes a little practice, but the results are game changing for the company, and life changing for the leader.
For example, if you are feeling stressed out at work and notice yourself saying “I’m such an idiot for saying xx in that meeting”, you might say to yourself “Oh, the Judge is back again, saying I’m going to fail”. It is a powerful act of mindfulness to notice and label your Saboteurs, realize they are not serving you and choose to move into Sage mode instead.
2. Strengthen Sage
The Sage perspective is always available, and Shirzad outlines five specific Sage powers in his book that you can use to meet any challenge. One of the most powerful tools Shirzad gives to switch from Saboteur to Sage involves asking yourself, “What is the gift or opportunity in this situation?”
The next time you are faced with a challenge, try taking a few deep breaths and then ask yourself “Hmmm……What is the gift or opportunity in this situation?” Force yourself to come up with a list of at least threegifts or opportunities. By simply asking this question, you will start to shift into Sage mode and open yourself to a better outcome.
3. Strengthen Your PQ Brain
In addition to identifying and labeling your primary Saboteurs and strengthening your Sage, the final tool to achieve your potential involves improving your Positive Intelligence (PQ) brain muscles through repetitive exercises.
Positive Intelligence measures how well you are able to control your own mind and how well your mind acts in your best interest. One example Shirzad uses in his book to illustrate this is when your mind tells you that you should do your best to prepare for a big meeting, it is acting as your friend. When your mind wakes you up at 3:00am anxious about the meeting and racing in a loop over and over again about potential problems, it is acting as your enemy. The key to reaching your potential lies in your ability to use your own mind as your biggest alley rather than your biggest saboteur.
Practicing mindfulness is one of the best ways to strengthen your PQ Brain. Shirzad suggests doing at least one hundred PQ reps each day for twenty one days and he provides examples of how to do this in the book. Meditation is a great way to strengthen your PQ brain muscles.
To determine your current PQ Score and learn tools to strengthen your PQ brain, click here. According to Shirzad, a PQ score of 75 is the tipping point for a net-positive PQ Vortex, which results in an exponential boost in productivity.
Shirzad believes the reason many management trainings are ineffective is that there is too much focus on “insight,” and too little on building and maintaining new mental habits or muscles. He says “Transformation is 20% insight, 80% muscle”.
And he has found that if you commit to the three tools above for a period of twenty one days, you will build new PQ muscles to create lasting change.
People at the very peak of there fields have been shown to have put in 10,000 hours getting to that level. How does this translate for the rest of us…?
A much-touted theory suggests that practising any skill for 10,000 hours is sufficient to make you an expert. No innate talent? Not a problem. You just practice. But is it true?
The 10,000-hours concept can be traced back to a 1993 paper written by Anders Ericsson, a Professor at the University of Colorado, called The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance.
It highlighted the work of a group of psychologists in Berlin, who had studied the practice habits of violin students in childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
All had begun playing at roughly five years of age with similar practice times. However, at age eight, practice times began to diverge. By age 20, the elite performers had averaged more than 10,000 hours of practice each, while the less able performers had only done 4,000 hours of practice.
The psychologists didn’t see any naturally gifted performers emerge and this surprised them. If natural talent had played a role it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to expect gifted performers to emerge after, say, 5,000 hours.
Anders Ericsson concluded that “many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years”.
It is Malcolm Gladwell’s hugely popular book, Outliers, that is largely responsible for introducing “the 10,000-hour rule” to a mass audience – it’s the name of one of the chapters.
But Ericsson was not pleased. He wrote a rebuttal paper in 2012, called The Danger of Delegating Education to Journalists.
“The 10,000-hour rule was invented by Malcolm Gladwell who stated that, ‘Researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: 10,000 hours.’ Gladwell cited our research on expert musicians as a stimulus for his provocative generalisation to a magical number,” Ericsson writes.
Ericsson then pointed out that 10,000 was an average, and that many of the best musicians in his study had accumulated “substantially fewer” hours of practice. He underlined, also, that the quality of the practice was important.
“In contrast, Gladwell does not even mention the concept of deliberate practice,” Ericsson writes.
Gladwell counters that Ericsson doesn’t really think that talent exists.
“I think that being very, very good at something requires a big healthy dose of natural talent. And when I talk about the Beatles – they had masses of natural talent. They were born geniuses. Ericsson wouldn’t say that.
“Ericsson, if you read some of his writings, is… saying the right kind of practice is sufficient.”
Gladwell places himself roughly in the middle of a sliding scale with Ericsson at one end, placing little emphasis on the role of natural talent, and at the other end a writer such as David Epstein, author of the The Sports Gene. Epstein is “a bit more of a talent person than me” Gladwell suggests.
One of the difficulties with assessing whether expert-level performance can be obtained just through practice is that most studies are done after the subjects have reached that level.
It would be better to follow the progress of someone with no innate talent in a particular discipline who chooses to complete 10,000 hours of deliberate practice in it.
And we can, thanks to our wannabe professional golfer, Dan McLaughlin.
“I began the plan in April 2010 and I basically putted from one foot and slowly worked away from the hole,” he says.
“Eighteen months into it I hit my first driver and now it’s approaching four years and I’m about half way. So I’m 5,000 hours into the project. My current handicap is right at a 4.1 and the goal is to get down to a plus handicap [below zero] where I have the skill set to compete in a legitimate PGA tour event.”
David Epstein hopes that McLaughlin can reach his goal, but he has some doubts. In the sporting world innate ability is mandatory, he believes.
A recent study of baseball players, Epstein points out, found that the average player had 20/13 vision as opposed to normal 20/20 vision. What this means is that they can see at 20 feet what a normal person would need to be at 13 feet to see clearly. That gives a hitter an enormous advantage when it comes to striking a ball being thrown towards them at 95mph from 60 feet (or 153km/h from 18m).
Using an analogy from computing, Epstein says the hardware is someone’s visual acuity – or the physiology of their eye that they cannot change – while the software is the set of skills they learn by many, many hours of practice.
“No matter how good their vision is, it’s like a laptop with only the hardware – with no programmes on it, it’s useless. But once they’ve downloaded that software, once they have learned those sports-specific skills, the better the hardware is the better the total machine is going to be.”
But is there a simpler way to think about all this? Maybe talented people just practise more and try harder at the thing they’re already good at – because they enjoy it?
“Imagine being in calculus class on your first day and the teacher being at the board writing an equation, and you look at it and think ‘Wow, that’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,’ which some people do,” says Gladwell.
“For those people to go home and do two hours of calculus homework is thrilling, whereas for the rest of us it’s beyond a chore and more like a nightmare.
“Those that have done the two hours’ practice come in the following day and everything is easier than it is for those who didn’t enjoy it in the first place and didn’t do the two hours’ homework.”
What Dan McLaughlin is hoping is that what he lacks in innate talent he more than makes up for with his 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.
If Dan’s plan goes well he could be mixing it with the likes of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in 2018. If not, he will just be a very good golfer.
The significance of 10,000 hours was popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers: The Story of Success which included The 10,000 Rule as a chapter. But, Josh Kaufman in his TEDxCSU Talk, The First 20 hours: How To Learn Anything has some helpful guidelines to give us to become very good at something, anything, in just 2o hours…
The centrepiece of Gladwell’s book was practice well, practice well and you’ll reach the top of your field.
What Dr Ericsson was actually saying [in his 1993 paper] was “It takes 10,000 hours to get the top of an ultra-competitive filed in a very narrow subject.”
But here’s what happened. Ever since Outliers came out, reached the top of the bestseller list and stayed there for three solid months, all of a sudden the 10,000 Rule was everywhere. And a society-wide game of Telephone started to be played. So this message ‘It takes 10,000 hours to get to the top of an ultra-competitive field’ became ‘It takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something’ which became ‘It takes 10,000 hours to become good at something’ which became ‘It takes 10,000 hours to learn something.’ But that last statement is not true…
And the story of the Learning Curve is when you start you are grossly incompetent and you know it. With a little bit of practice you get really good really quick. That early level of improvement is real fast. Then, at a certain point, you reach a plateau, and the subsequent gains become much harder to get.
How long does it take to get from being grossly incompetent to being reasonably good at something? My research says 20 hours.
You can go from know nothing about any subject – learn a language or learn how to draw or how to juggle flaming chainsaws – if you put 20 hours of deliberate focused practice into learning that thing, you will be astounded at how good you are. And 20 hours isn’t that hard to accumulate – it’s just 20minutes a day for two months.
But this demands more than just fiddling around for about 20hours. There’s a way to practice intelligently and efficiently that will make sure you invest those 20hours in the most effective way that you can. And here’s the method…
4 Simple Steps To Rapid Skill Acquisition
- Deconstruct the skill. Decide exactly what you want to be able to do when you’re done, and then look into the skill and break it down into smaller and smaller pieces… The more you’re able to break apart the skill, the more you’re able to decide what are the parts of the skill that will actually help me to get to what I want. And then you can practice those most important parts first, and this get to what you want to be able to do in the least amount of time possible.
- Learn enough to self-correct. Get 3-5 resources on what it is you’re trying to learn – books, dvdd, course, anything – but don’t use those as a way to procrastinate. What you want to do is learn just enough to self-correct as you’re doing. The learning needs to enable you to know when you’re making a mistake and then do something helpful to correct it.
- Remove practice barriers. Remove dust rations – television, internet, social media – all of the things that limit you actually sitting down and doing the work. The more you are able to use just a little bit of willpower to remove the things that get in the way of your practice, the more likely you are to actually do the practice.
- Practice at least 20 hours. Most learning has a deeply frustrating part. We don’t like to feel stupid, and feeling stupid is a barrier to us actually sitting down and doing the work. So by pre committing to practicing whatever it is that you want to do for at least 2o hours you will be able to overcome that frustration barrier and stick with it long enough to reap the rewards.
The major barrier to learning anything is emotional. What do you want to do? Go out and spend 20 hours on it.
Here is Josh Kaufman’s full TEDTalk, including his demonstration of how well he has learned to play dozens of songs on the ukelele, practicing his own 2o hour guidelines:
Josh Kaufman is the author of the #1 international bestseller, ‘The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business’, as well as the upcoming book ‘The First 20 Hours: Mastering the Toughest Part of Learning Anything.’ Josh specializes in teaching people from all walks of life how to master practical knowledge and skills. In his talk, he shares how having his first child inspired him to approach learning in a whole new way.
As we learn new things, we often feel inspired to change.
We discover the possibility of achieving something greater and fall in love with that future idea.
You’ll agree with me in that doing things just once or twice won’t do the trick, right?
To achieve the end result, you need to repeat the same positive action, over and over again, until at one point it becomes automatic. And then, you’ll have a habit that you can’t live without. It becomes part of your routine.
New habits can give your brain pleasure
Installing a new positive habit has the power to bring you closer to your ideal self. But this is just a small part of the story.
Most people tend to perceive the notion of new habits as a ‘bore’ or as a painful thing to do, and feel discouraged to even try. This is because nobody told them about the additional benefits of a habit that has been successfully installed:
- It feels effortless. You don’t have to think about it much. You just go on autopilot – like when you brush your teeth.
- You don’t need willpower because your behaviour is automatically triggered by a contextual cue (rather than self-control).
- There’s a promise of reward from completing the action. And your brain gets pleasure from a completed task.
- The automation of common actions frees mental resources for other tasks or thought processes.
- We perform thousands of actions a day, 95% of which are automatic: a new habit is part of this group.
This is how you can create freedom and space for other things in your life. Who doesn’t want to create health habits that are sticky and that make us feel great?
Now you may think: “But don’t we need to go through a phase of pure willpower in order to create a new health habit?”
Stay tuned, that’s what we’re here to explore – how to create a health habit that will stick, without having to employ pure willpower.
Can you rely solely on willpower to change?
If we’re talking about long-term change, then the answer isno.
Willpower is the ability to ‘mindfully’ control oneself. Controlling oneself in order to change a behaviour isn’t that easy. It’s an effort.
In contrast, a habit is an almost ‘mindless’ behaviour pattern acquired by frequent repetition that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance. Unlike willpower, a habit feels easy.
Willpower alone will not get you to long-term success. It’s the birthing of a new habit that will.
As Charles Duhigg explains in his book The Power of Habit, we create a habit through a cue which leads to a routine, that ends in a habit. It is the routine or habit that allows us to access a part of our brain that runs on relatively little gas.
How do you go from self-control to easy habit?
When you feel good internally after completing what you set out to do, you build into your own self accountability. You want to do more of it because you received positive feedback from the task and you felt good doing it.
You completed the new task and you added to your habit strength. It’s almost as if you perpetuate the new behaviour through letting it build its own muscle, if you will.
What’s more, installing a good action in your routine can trigger a positive ripple effect on many other health behaviours.
Australian researchers Oaten and Cheng conducted a study that concluded how one repeated action (in this case exercise) can trigger a variety of positive behaviours and faciliate the improvement of self-regulation.
Is habit automation all you really need to do?
Research led by USC Professor Wendy Wood shows that lack of control – or willpower – doesn’t automatically mean success or failure.
When you don’t have self-control, what really matters is the underlying routine, or the habit groove you’ve already installed – good or bad.
Dr. Wood, who is a leading researcher on habits, goes on to tell us this:
Habits persist even when we’re tired and don’t have the energy to exert self-control.
Is this also true for your eating habits?
The same principle applies to our eating behaviours.
Willpower – or self-control – is a limited resource and can become depleted as the day goes by.
If you’ve been juggling difficult clients or stressful situations at work to the point of mental exhaustion, there will be none or very little willpower left at the end of your day. That means a reduced ability to change what and how you eat.
This is because when we’re exhausted, our brain defaults to previously installed automatic behaviours – such as the late-night snacking habit.
So in the long run, developing a habit or an automatic reaction is more effective than self-control: you’ll perform it anyway, even when your mental energy runs out.
Can automation be used for athletic performance?
Absolutely. Here’s an example.
When an athlete is in ‘the zone’ and goes for the gold at the Olympics, it isn’t about self-control; it’s about automation. It’s about relying on that 95% of their (subconscious) machinery that they worked so hard to optimise.
For this reason, most aspiring gold-medalists are already training for 2016. Because, when it comes to star performance on the competition day, relying on automatic actions and intuitive skills is more powerful than having a ‘mental debate’ on how to control an outcome.
So how do you set up a habit?
Start simple and start small.
When you choose an action to push yourself towards your goal, plan specifically when and where you will do this action. Be consistent; choose a time and place that you encounter every day of the week. This will help with the adherence, or stickiness.
Surround yourself with new habit-forming contextual cues. These are the subconscious triggers for your new action, which can be, for instance, a time of the day, a certain place, a sound, a particular smell, foods that you keep in the kitchen, or a pre-installed behaviour – typically small things.
The less overwhelming the cues, the better your chances of grooving a habit.
Your goal here is to pay attention to the cues (or to plant new cues) around you, which act as reminders. As your brain reacts to the cue, completing the subsequent action feels like a reward.
It’s this feeling of accomplishment or reward that will cause your brain to want to do it again. When it comes to perpetuating the behaviour, repetition is king!
The bottom line
Remember, it’s about automation. This means that we remove any debates inside your head about whether to perform the action or not. Even when you don’t have the energy to exert self-control (willpower), a habit can keep you on track and in line.
Now it’s over to you! Join in the conversation and tell us in the comments below:
- Which new habit can you install this week?
- What triggers do you need to plant or remove to make this happen?
This is a supportive and safe place to share and learn from each other!
I think perhaps I would suggest looking at these and selecting the one or two that you believe could have the greatest positive impact of how you do things, rather than take them all – with particular caution around Tip 2…
The hardest part is getting started.
When there’s a long list that needs tackling every day, the hardest part is tackling what needs to be done first. You may feel intimidated to start your next big project or pull your colleague aside for an awkward, but much-needed confrontation.
And prioritizing isn’t getting any easier. In his book Present Shock, Douglas Rushkoff blames this modern-day condition on our “continuous, always-on ‘now’“ world which has made us lose our sense of direction.
Successful people know that planning, organizing, and protecting your time is no easy feat, but if you don’t have your priorities straight, who will? Below are four unconventional methods that keep the brightest minds focus on exactly what they need to:
1. Think About Death
Reflecting on death might not be what comes to mind when you want to tackle your to-do list, but studies find it helps you re-prioritize your goals and values. Buddhist teachings encourage reflections of death with the idea that a better understanding of mortality also helps us better understand our purpose in life.
2. Wear The Same Clothes Every Day
When you downsize your closet, you also cut down on the number of choices you have to make every day, which means you can now focus on what’s most important: your priorities.
Plenty of CEOs adopt this “uniform” strategy. Steve Jobs wore the same jeans and black turtleneck day in and day out. Oracle’s Larry Ellison also preferred black turtlenecks, but often wore them underneath fashionable slim jackets. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos sticks to khakis, blue shirts, and sometimes a dark jacket. Aspokesperson for the company once said: “[Bezos would] rather spend his time figuring out how to cut prices for customers than figuring out what to wear each day.”
Leo Widrich, cofounder of Buffer, despises these daily decisions so much, he wears the same clothes every day (he owns five white T-shirts and two pairs of pants) and also eats the same dinner six times a week. Widrich believes that the fewer decisions he has to make, the better his decisions will be.
In an interview with Michael Lewis for Vanity Fair, President Barack Obama agrees with Widrich’s way of life: “I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make. You need to focus yourdecision-making energy. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”
I notice though that every one of these examples is a man. What would we think of a woman who came to work constantly wearing the same outfit?
3. Know The Difference Between Urgent And Important
Like Rushkoff, Dwight D. Eisenhower knew how easy it is to lose track of goals if the importance of tasks are confusing. To differentiate between “urgent” and “important” tasks, the 34th President of the United States broke the two into very basic distinctions:
- An urgent task requires immediate attention and is often performed in a hurried, reactive mode. An example of an urgent task is calming the baby or attending a meeting.
- An important task contributes to long-term values and goals and is performed in a responsive mode that leads to new opportunities. An example of an important task is planning the company’s next relationship-building mixer. Important tasks can sometimes also be urgent, but often are not.
Author Stephen Covey popularized Eisenhower’s Decision Principle in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
4. Make An “Avoid At All Cost” List
Warren Buffett knows that you can’t be amazing if you focus on everything you’re interested in at once. This is exactly why, to keep his focus laser sharp, Buffett advises making a list of the top 25 things you want to accomplish in the next few years. From this list, pick the top five that are most important to you.
Now you have two lists and Buffett suggests you “avoid at all cost” the longer one. According to the business magnate, adding your second most important items into your focus only prevents big things from happening.
Whether it’s reflecting on mortality or getting rid of your wardrobe, the smartest people know that there’s never more time in the day–only better ways to manage your time through prioritizing. And if you’ve tried it all and still get sidetracked from what’s really important, it’s time to learn the most simple, yet effective way you can prioritize: Start saying no.
Understanding the process of change — why we are the way we are, and how to change when we really want to—is incredibly important. The attribute of driving effective change can give you the keys to the kingdom of success and happiness. However, , if you don’t learn how to use it, you can stay mired in a dark hole of frustration that can lead to self-defeat and low self-esteem.
So let’s start with what we typically know: Changing behaviors is hard. (Change is hard, period.) You get wired to certain behavior patterns, and your brain gets stuck in a groove that takes concerted, conscious, and consistent effort to change. And even when you do manage to change for a few days, weeks or months, it is all too easy to slip back into old patterns.
The good news is that we know, through the latest neuroscience, that our brains are “plastic.” This means they can create new neural pathways, which allows you to create change and form new patterns of behavior that can stick over time. You find a new groove, so to speak. But it takes work—sometimes, a lot of work. And it takes time. The popular myth that you can quickly and easily change a deeply-ingrained habit in 21 days has been largely disproven by brain and behavioral scientists. They now think it actually takes anywhere from six to nine months to create the new neural pathways that support changing behavior.
There are three things you need to make any change, whether mental, emotional or physical: desire, intent, and persistence.Our culture is filled with magazine covers that say you can meet your dream partner by the weekend, land your dream job in five days, or lose 10 pounds in two weeks. This can leave mere mortals feeling completely inadequate when they fail to achieve such results, which are completely unrealistic, if not downright impossible, in the first place.
When you consider that only 8% of people actually follow through on intentions to change a habit, you can see why it’s so critical to understand enough about the change process, and yourself, to smooth a path to success.
So what are the steps and considerations? Here are some questions to think about, as you begin to create positive change in a lasting way:
Do you really want it?
There is no point in saying you are going to stop working so much, so you can get some semblance of balance in your life, if in reality you really don’t care that much about balance, and you really love to work. Who are you doing it for? Don’t kid yourself. You must be serious and care about the change you decide to make, so you’ll be willing to work for it and follow through.
What need is being served by what you are doing now?
Your current behavior is there for a reason, or you wouldn’t be doing it. Hard to swallow, but true. Whether you’re a workaholic, 20 pounds overweight, have anger management issues, or are unhappily single—your current situation is serving you somehow. So take some time to think about this. Whether the need is relaxation but the behavior is binge drinking, or the need is recognition but the behavior is overwork, you first need to identify what need is being served by your current behavior. Once you have the answer, you can work out how to meet this need in another way, smoothing the path to change.
How else can you meet your needs?
So, you have identified the current behavior and how it is serving you. Now think about how else you could get this same need met. You may relate to this example. For some people, eating foods they know are not only bad for them, and in fact likely to leave them feeling tired, grumpy, and full of self-loathing, is less about the foods, and more about the nurturing, comfort, or distraction they provide. How else could you get your need met? Perhaps retreating to your meditation cushion, your yoga mat, the bath tub, or even your bed, would give you an even greater sense of the nurturing you need, without the guilt, the self-esteem crash from not following through on your intention, and, of course, the pounds. So when you think about the needs you have, how elsecan they be met?
What’s the price of not changing?
You will experience ambivalence on the change path, no question about it. And that’s okay. But to progress down the road, you have to ask yourself: What is the price of not changing? If you really want a promotion, but are too fearful to ask for the management training you need, the price is staying in the same role. Is overcoming your fear worth the goal? Or if you really want to get healthy, lose weight and get fit, but you don’t want to have to cut the sugar and get out walking, what is the price of that behavior? Putting on yet another 10 kilos? Think about and write down any negative effects your current behaviors are creating in your life—self‑loathing, boredom, career stagnation, frustration. Once you have hit this wall of realization, you are in the perfect place to turn around and move forward.
What positive image can pull you forward?
It is known, from research in positive psychology and neuroscience, that you’ll have more success when you move towards something positive rather than away from something negative. It is also known that positive images pull you forward. (Think vision boards, athletes visualizing their performance success, or thinking through the positive outcome of a business presentation before it takes place.) It works, and science proves it. So what positive image of the outcome you want can you visualize to pull you toward success? Come up with one; have it firmly in your mind; place it on a wall, in your computer, in your journal, or anywhere you will reference it; and look at it frequently. It can be especially helpful when your resolve is slipping, to remind you what you are working so hard for.
Are you acknowledging success?
When you have made progress on your efforts, it is important to acknowledge that achievement. When you celebrate your efforts, you create upward spirals of momentum that help reinforce the positive change and make it stick. Recognizing your efforts also helps to reinforce the direction in which you are moving, and motivates you further toward your goals. Recognizing, acknowledging, and celebrating progress, however small, is a key to success on your change path.
Change can be challenging. Anyone who has tried to change a habit knows this is true. But it is possible. And you can smooth the path to success by being aware of the cycle of change, being prepared, and being consistent. The result is worth the effort, if you want it badly enough to work for it.
Here is a brand new MOOC from Berkeley starting next week which I thought you might like to know about…
Starts September 9, 2014 – Register Now!
An unprecedented free online course exploring the roots of a happy, meaningful life. Co-taught by the GGSC’s Dacher Keltner andEmiliana Simon-Thomas. Up to 16 CE credit hours available.
We all want to be happy, and there are countless ideas about what happiness is and how we can get some. But not many of those ideas are based on science. That’s where this course comes in.
“The Science of Happiness” is a free, eight-week online course that explores the roots of a happy and meaningful life. Students will engage with some of the most provocative and practical lessons from this science, discovering how cutting-edge research can be applied to their own lives.
Created by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, the course zeroes in on a fundamental finding from positive psychology: that happiness is inextricably linked to having strong social ties and contributing to something bigger than yourself—the greater good. Students will learn about the cross-disciplinary research supporting this view, spanning the fields of psychology, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and beyond.
What’s more, “The Science of Happiness” will offer students practical strategies for nurturing their own happiness. Research suggests that up to 40 percent of happiness depends on our habits and activities. So each week, students will learn a new research-tested practice that fosters social and emotional well-being—and the course will help them track their progress along the way.
The course will include:
- Short videos featuring the co-instructors and guest lectures from top experts on the science of happiness;
- Articles and other readings that make the science accessible and understandable to non-academics;
- Weekly “happiness practices”—real-world exercises that students can try on their own, all based on research linking these practices to greater happiness;
- Tests, quizzes, polls, and a weekly “emotion check-in” that help students gauge their happiness and track their progress over time;
- Discussion boards where students can share ideas with one another and submit questions to their instructors.
All of these articles and more are collected in the latest edition of Happiness At Work, the weekly free online paper from BridgeBuilders STG of the best stories, research news and articles about learning and leadership, happiness and employee engagement, creativity and resilience from across the web over the previous week.
I hope you find much here to enjoy and profit from.
And do feel welcome to bring your ideas, challenges, insights and experiences to our Facebook page